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A building in Ukraine destroyed by shelling. (Photo: Slavyansk, EU/ECHO September 2014/cc/flickr)

US-Supported "Good Guys" Firing Ballistic Missiles in Ukraine?

U.S. official indicates Pentagon likely to hold back evidence of use of powerful weapons because they come from the side cast as the "good guys" in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine

Lauren McCauley

One day after the U.S. government accused Russia of betraying a signature treaty by test-firing a medium-range ballistic missile, questions are mounting on Tuesday over whether the Ukrainian Army has actually fired short-range ballistic missiles at rebel-held areas in the east of the country.

[A U.S.  official] said it is not clear if the United States will show satellite imagery of the Ukrainian firings "because these are the good guys." —CNN reportWith no mention of potential civilian casualties, CNN reported on Tuesday that according to three U.S. officials, in the past 48 hours the Ukrainian military had fired several short-range ballistic missiles "into areas controlled by Russian separatists."

CNN reports:

One U.S. official said so far, there has been no reaction from Russia. A second official said it is not clear if the United States will show satellite imagery of the Ukrainian firings "because these are the good guys."

Another of the U.S. officials called the firings "an escalation, but Ukraine has a right to defend itself."

So far, the Ukrainian government has not publicly acknowledged the missile firings. CNN is seeking a comment from Kiev.

While U.S. officials say they don't think pro-Russian rebels have used ballistic missiles, they remain concerned about how Russia might respond.

With warheads up to 1000 pounds, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr said of the ballistic missiles: "We are talking maximum lethality, we are talking a weapon that can kill dozens of people at a time."

Meanwhile, the death toll among civilians continues to mount. According to a United Nations count released Monday— 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded between July 26 and when fighting began in mid-April. This week, that count grows as the Ukrainian military continued to shell the eastern cities of Gorlovka and Donetsk.

In the CNN report, Starr emphasizes the "awkward situation" that the U.S. is in, having backed the Ukrainian government's assault on the rebels in the east and, specifically, having in recent days published widely satellite images that allegedly show Russia firing rockets into Ukraine.

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia continued to ratchet up on Monday when President Barack Obama charged Russian President Vladimir Putin with testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missiles, violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or I.N.F. Treaty. According to U.S. intelligence officials, Russia has been conducting these tests since 2008. Obama is reportedly seeking a "high-level dialogue with Moscow" before formally declaring the treaty violation.

Also on Monday, U.S. and European leaders announced that they will impose tougher sanctions against Russia for their alleged support of the rebels.

Reporting from eastern Ukraine, CNN reporter Nick Paton Walsh said the fighting has grown more severe in recent days with "increased heavy weaponry being used [and] increased wideness of that use," he said that there is "a real sense that a war has started." He describes entire towns that have been "devastated."

"The Ukrainian military is pushing as hard as they can to retake the east," Paton Walsh added.

Independent journalist Christopher Allen is posting images and updates from the situation on the ground in Donetsk.

Below is a video of the CNN report:

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